The Heat Is Online

Watson Out as IPCC Chair Following ExxonMobil Memo to Bush

Watson Loses Chair of Climate Panel

GENEVA, Switzerland, April 19, 2002 (ENS) - Transatlantic divisions over climate change were reconfirmed today when Dr. Robert Watson, the outspoken chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC), was ousted with American support but against European wishes.

In a secret ballot of 125 governments, 61 percent voted against Dr. Watson and for Indian engineer economist Rajendra Pachauri, currently the IPCC's vice chairman.

The incumbent had fought to serve a second five year term, with support from European Union countries.

Watson is credited with forging global scientific consensus on key issues within the IPPC. The IPCC in turn has played a strong role in galvanizing political support for policy responses to the threat of global warming.

The IPCC is a joint project of the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization. The 2,500 researchers and other experts who are part of the panel have led international efforts to assess the science behind human and natural causes of climate change since it was formed in 1988.

Watson, an atmospheric researcher and the chief scientist at the World Bank, is considered one of the world's leading experts on climate change. He is a strong proponent of the idea that human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels are the primary forces behind the warming climate, and that efforts to combat global warming must focus on reducing human emissions of greenhouse gases.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth alleged his expulsion was due to lobbying by the U.S. government and American energy businesses. Exxon is the group's main target for anger, following a revelation that in 2001 it urged the U.S. government to replace him.

The IPCC vote comes just as EU environment commissioner Margot Wallström prepares to visit America in a bid to narrow the transatlantic divide over environmental issues, and particularly climate change.

On Tuesday, Wallstrom and Pachauri will both attend a first meeting of the new EU-US High Level Representatives on Climate Change.

Upon her departure, Commissioner Wallstrom said, "It is important that we work together with the U.S., even if we disagree on some specific issues, such as climate change. There is scope for cooperation on many issues and we can make a decisive impact to ensure a successful outcome at the Johannesburg Summit if we join forces."

{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London.}

Climate scientist ousted

BBC News, April 12, 2002

One of the most outspoken scientists on the issue of global warming has been ousted from his job.

Dr Robert Watson was voted out of the chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Friday and will be replaced by one of the current vice-chairs, Dr Rajendra Pachauri.

Dr Watson's removal will spark a huge political row - environmentalists accuse the US Government of orchestrating a campaign to have the scientist sidelined.

They say Washington disliked Dr Watson's willingness to tell governments what he believes to be the unvarnished truth - that human activities are now contributing dangerously to climate change.

Government representatives attending an IPCC meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, voted 76 to 49 for the engineer and economist Dr Rajendra Pachauri to take the chair.

Dr Pachauri, the director of the Tata Energy Research Institute in New Delhi, was the US administration's favoured candidate.

Climate facts

President Bush repudiated the international climate agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, which is the only political instrument so far to result from the IPCC's work.

The president took the view that the protocol would do enormous damage to the US economy.

Green groups believe Mr Bush is unduly influenced by the energy lobby in America, and point to a memo forwarded to the White House by ExxonMobil last year.

The document raised the question of whether Dr Watson could be replaced as the US representative on the IPCC. Environmentalists claimed the outcome of Friday's vote was proof of ExxonMobil's power behind the scenes in Washington.

"It's just extraordinary that Exxon can tell the US what to do and then they go and do it," said Cindy Baxter of the StopEsso campaign. She claimed the company did not like the science coming out of the IPCC, "so they changed the scientist".

"Luckily, the science of the IPCC is very strong," she added. "No matter what Exxon and the US tries to do - they cannot change that."

Natural factors

What the environmentalists do fear, however, is that documents produced for politicians may now be less forceful in their presentation - they are not convinced that Dr Rajendra Pachauri will be so strong an advocate for change in global energy policies as Dr Watson.

Many critics of the IPCC believe this should not be a role the panel assumes anyway. They think it should stick simply to assessing the facts of climate science.

Many sceptics were deeply critical at what they saw as the politicisation of the UN group under the chairmanship of Dr Watson.

They claim humanity's influence on the climate has been overstated - that the changes we see around us today are the products of natural variability.

ExxonMobil has told BBC News Online that the White House memo was not written by one of its employees and that it merely passed the document on. The company said it had no official position on the post of IPCC chair.

'Time for a change'

Dr Watson spoke to the BBC after the vote.

"I'm obviously extremely disappointed, but my job now is to maintain the integrity of the IPCC," he said.

"I believe Dr Pachauri does have integrity - I hope he has the integrity. He is an economist; he is a technologist. I thought co-chairing with Dr Pachauri was an appropriate solution but we have a democratic process and a majority of the countries in the world thought it was time for a change."

He continued: "We have to continue to press the case that climate change is a serious environmental issue, both for developed and developing countries.

"I'm willing to stay in there, working as hard as possible, making sure the findings of the very best scientists in the world are taken seriously by government, industry and by society as a whole."

U.S. Scientist Off Climate Panel

The Associated Press, April 19, 2002

GENEVA -- A U.S. scientist was voted off an international climate panel Friday after what campaigners claimed was pressure from the oil industry and Washington, a claim rejected by the United States.

Atmospheric scientist Robert Watson was seeking re-election as head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He has been vocal in warning governments about the danger of fossil fuel emissions contributing to global warming.

Watson was defeated by Indian challenger Rajendra Pachauri, who was backed by the United States and 75 other nations. Watson received 49 votes in the ballot, said World Meteorological Organization spokeswoman Mo Lagarde.

Seven nations voted for Jose Goldemberg, a Brazilian who entered the race this week.

The panel, set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the U.N. Environment Program, assesses and publicizes information on man-made climate change.

Environmental groups have accused the Bush administration of caving in to a request from Exxon Mobil that it try to remove Watson.